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2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt: Forget McQueen, Just Drive the Car

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 11/13/2018 Davey G. Johnson

It has been 50 years since Steve McQueen punted a Dodge Charger full of baddies into a gas-station explosion after chasing them through San Francisco in a Mustang, and nearly two decades since the now traditional Bullitt edition first graced the Mustang line. Since then, the recipe has remained largely the same: better handing, available Dark Highland Green paint, restrained but aggressive aesthetics-and, of course, badges that ensure McQueen obsessives will walk into showrooms hurling fistfuls of sawbucks at anyone remotely resembling a salesman.

But enough about the dollars. Ford has been hacking at the Mustang's performance pie lately. And while the Shelby GT350 remains the least expensive car you can buy with at least 500 horsepower, the recently refreshed Mustang GT makes a real case for itself as a budget Shelby in Performance Pack Level 2 guise. The Bullitt, based on a well-equipped GT with the Level 1 Performance Pack, slides into what some of us think is the sweetest spot in the Mustang lineup. The Steve-replica Stang sticks with 255-section-width Michelin PS4s up front and 275s in the rear, while the PP2 wears a set of Pilot Sport Cups measuring 305/30R-19 all the way around. Barely street legal, those tires are stickier than Boston's Great Molasses Flood when they're hot, but like the GT350, the PP2 has a track-oriented nature that can sometimes feel a bit wearying in the day-to-day grind. The Bullitt, then, might just be the Mustang with which to rule the street (at least until the ultraviolent GT500 arrives). To help with that, Ford has upped the 5.0-liter Coyote V-8's ante to 480 horsepower, 20 more than in the GT and down only 46 from the GT350.

a close up of a car: 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt© Michael Simari 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt

Unlike its two main competitors-the Challenger, which Dodge has been buffing and polishing since the company was owned by the Germans, and the Camaro, which for all its capability is an ergonomic and packaging disaster-the Mustang offers a rather nice cabin. Ford has added a Bullitt badge to the steering wheel, which sort of makes you the guy wearing the band's T-shirt to its show. How you feel about that particular rock-and-roll faux pas may determine how you wind up feeling about the Bullitt.

The aesthetics pull straight from McQueen's '68 GT390, with a chrome-trimmed, blacked-out, de-equined grille and 19-inch five-spoke wheels reminiscent of American Racing's classic gray-center Torq Thrust Ds. Shadow Black is an available paint option, but Dark Highland Green is such a fabulous color, one wonders how many buyers will opt for the more basic hue. The only model-specific callout on the exterior is the huge round Bullitt badge between the taillights, something conspicuously absent from the automobile featured in the film. It's easily replaced with a unit from a GT or a base Mustang. Given that we're as smitten with the Bullitt as we are fatigued by the cult of McQueen, we'd spend the money to make the switch.

Our test car featured one of the Bullitt's few options-MagneRide dampers-and the ride/handling balance of the pony car is superb. It's now about as good as Chevy's Camaro SS, previously the gold standard of the category. On the winding two-lanes of California's Sierra Nevada foothills, the big Mustang was easy enough to place on the pavement, although you won't mistake the 3850-pound bruiser for a Miata. The six-piston Brembos up front inspire confidence, and body control is good-a vast improvement over the hairy Yankee wallowing that was par for the course in 1968-but the Mustang still behaves with a pleasingly American character. And despite its New World brutishness, it laid down 0.97 g on the skidpad, which puts the Bullitt within hundredths of a g of some very serious European hardware and only 0.05 g shy of the GT350. For those who daily drive their future Barrett-Jackson hopefuls, giving up those five hundredths makes for a much more livable commute.

a close up of a black device: 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt© Michael Simari 2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt

Gearchanges are a joy. Ford offers the Bullitt with a six-speed manual transmission only, and the shifter wears a white cue-ball knob reminiscent of a Woodward-special Hurst unit. It also, thankfully, features a progressive, linear clutch, which is far friendlier in operation than the GT350's third pedal with its nothing-nothing-nothing-OH! takeup. Each throw of the lever allows you to imbibe long pulls of the Bullitt's chief intoxicant, this hottest Coyote V-8's magnificent, warbling yowl. While FCA's Hemi and GM's small-block engines bellow with similar classical pushrod voices, Ford's 5.0 cammers don't sound like anything else and are better for their aural individuality. The cross-plane Coyote engine may not have the high-end yawp of the flat-plane-crank Voodoo V-8, but that doesn't necessarily mean its sound is in any way lesser. The Bullitt is about as great-sounding an automobile as you can buy without crossing the $100,000 threshold. And, yes, we're aware that it's theoretically possible to buy a Porsche 911 Carrera with a sport exhaust for less than $100K.

Deploying that furious noise in as expedient a manner as possible took us to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. That's 0.2 second slower than a GT350 and a full second behind the aforementioned Carrera. Perhaps shockingly, it's also 0.6 second off the pace of a less powerful Mustang GT equipped with the 10-speed automatic transmission. We found the Bullitt a bit tricky to get off the line, but we wouldn't trade the automatic-equipped GT's quickness for the engagement of the manual, which, for those of you with stiff, lazy, or hopelessly uncoordinated right feet, features automated rev matching.

On paper, the Bullitt wins little to nothing. A cynic could call it the ultimate poser's Mustang, and said cynic would have some semblance of an argument. But get in and actually drive the thing. Forget the baggage of the badge. Hell, forget the movie was ever made. An evocative machine all by its lonesome, the Bullitt is simply one of the most enjoyable automobiles on sale today. There's an ineffable rightness to the car that makes it just that much more involving than the already great Mustang GT, and it doesn't demand the day-to-day compromises of the GT350. In the real world, the Bullitt's only downside is its badge. And that's easy enough to change.

2019 Ford Mustang Bullitt: Forget McQueen, Just Drive the Car: The McQueen-themed pony car is perhaps Ford's best all-around Mustang-even for those who couldn't care less about the movie.© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc The McQueen-themed pony car is perhaps Ford's best all-around Mustang-even for those who couldn't care less about the movie.
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